What We Learned From Arsenal vs. Milan in Dubai

The first thing I learned from this one is that waking up early to watch your team play a friendly is not always rewarded. In fact, sometimes you are punished. As the dressing room pictures were released and I saw those hideous split pea soup puke kits, I knew it would be ugly. But I did not heed the nauseatingly green warning signs and just go back to bed. That is on me. Then I had to have a paid subscription just to watch the match on Milan's YouTube channel. Worse still, they put a picture-in-picture of their ridiculous Twitch streamer, Lollo, and he was talking over the excellent English speaking commentator (loudly) throughout the match in Italian. Literally, I got a headache from it, it was so bad. Oh yeah, and Milan lost both the match to Arsenal 2-1 as well as the bizarre mandated penalty shootout 4-3. But mostly, I learned that our business side are like desperate street pimps in Dubai, ruining everyone's experience with their horrible marketing decisions.

How could they be expected to win anything wearing those abominations of football kits?

Just when Milan were really literally doing everything right, they fly to Dubai and do everything the opposite. I don't know if these really bad marketing decisions were left over from Gazidis' reign, or if Furlani signed off on them, but I hope he figures out very quickly, as a fan himself, that all of these decisions are incredibly lame. The kit is horrific, fans should never have to pay to watch a friendly, and if people wanted to watch some idiot Twitch streamer, they would just watch on Twitch.

Also, it is traumatizing enough to have to see the players wear those hideous kits for 90 minutes, please stop putting links at the bottom of the YouTube screen the entire match and on every social media post to buy the abominable green monstrosities. Perhaps it is just the air in Dubai that warps people's brains. For example, I had read that this match was sold out, or very, very close. But there were visibly so many vacant seats available in the stands. Very disappointing all the way around.

No, that's not a pitch invader, it's Furlani with Maldini and Massara

Based on the scoreline, you might think that the game was equally as bad, but actually, the performance was the least disappointing part. Aside from Kalulu, who typically plays as a center back, Pioli was still missing all of his other fullbacks as well as other defenders:

Florenzi is still out injured, Calabria is still coming back from injury, Dest and Ballo-Touré will return after the Dubai trip due to their appearances at the World Cup. Theo Hernández is obviously still playing in the World Cup for France, as well. Also, I am not sure if our center back Kjaer is fit yet after a minor issue at the World Cup with Denmark, so Pioli is down a lot of defenders. Maignan is not expected to return to full fitness until possibly the match against Salernitana, either. That is 60% of our defenders missing and our starting keeper, as well.

Clearly, Vieira and Ødegaard are laughing at Milan's kits

While Saelemaekers' return meant that all of our midfielders and wingers were healthy again, our attack was also beleaguered. Pioli was still missing:

Ibrahimović, who is in his final stages of recovery from his surgery; De Ketelaere, who was set to join the squad sometime today, I believe, after his World Cup experience; Leão, who will return after the Dubai trip following his performances with Portugal; and Giroud, who is also still representing France in Qatar. Also, I am unsure of Messias' physical condition. He was called up for the Dubai trip, but had been injured as of the last Serie A match

Captain Rebić and Pioli during a cooling break... maybe we should have mandated 'cooldown breaks' for him

For missing twelve players, many of them amongst our best, and facing the team who are clear at the top of the Premier League, I did not wake up early expecting to be blown away by this Milan side. But in all fairness, they kept pace with Arsenal and created plenty of chances. Pioli originally lined up his 4-2-3-1 with: 

Tatarusanu; Kalulu, Gabbia, Tomori, Pobega; Tonali, Vranckx; Saelemaekers, Adli, Rebić; and Origi.

There were chances from Origi, Pobega, Kalulu, and Saelemaekers in the first half, with Origi hitting the crossbar in the 11th and going just wide in the 28th. But once again, Milan were missing the clinical finishing that someone like Giroud brings us. Arsenal had fewer opportunities, but did not miss. In the 21st, Ødegaard scored a perfect free kick to put his team up 1-0. Then in the 42nd, Reiss Nelson scored their second goal to make it 2-0 Arsenal at the half.

The perfect free kick. Clinical.

At halftime, Pioli brought on Thiaw for Kalulu and Brahim Díaz for Saelemaekers, pushing Pobega up to a more comfortable midfield position and going with the three man backline. Pobega nearly scored in the 48th, and Thiaw also had a shot saved a minute later, the changes sparking more attack from Milan. Pioli also replaced Origi with Lazetić in the 56th.

The game got pretty physical for a friendly. After the match, it was noted that things got a little tense between Arsenal's captain, Ødegaard, and Pioli a couple of times, apparently over Tonali's interactions with Vieira. The Norwegian was upset because it was just a friendly, while Pioli was apparently fine with Tonali doing Tonali things. But ironically, it was Arsenal who were penalized by the referee with yellow cards, one for Nketiah for a foul and another for Elneny for dissent. 

Tomori can be clinical, too. Lethal, even.

After bringing on Bennacer, Krunić, Bozzolan, and El Hilali for Vranckx, Adli, Pobega, and Rebić respectively, Milan were finally able to pull one back. From a Tonali set piece, Tomori whipped in the header in the 78th for a consolation goal. The score was 2-1 Arsenal. Somewhere in the seven minutes of stoppage time, it seemed as if one of Tonali's chances might equalize, but to no avail.

One of the odd features of this tournament is that there is a penalty shootout at the end of every match, regardless of the scoreline. There is an additional point in the tournament up for grabs for the winner of the shootout. But Milan had Tatarusanu in goal. To be fair, he made the same number of saves as Hein, Arsenal's third keeper, which was exactly one. In the end, Milan also lost the penalty shootout 4-3 due to Krunić missing his penalty.

The penalty breakdown

Tatarusanu got one. (He saved 20% of the penalties he faced.)

What did we learn? Milan definitely still lack depth, especially with so many players away for the World Cup and still awaiting the return of our injured players. Arsenal were also missing many first team players, but had a full 14 players on the bench for Arteta to call upon, whereas Pioli was depending upon just 11 bench players, and five of those were Primavera players. 

However, barring the clinical finishing part, which is obviously important, Milan are still able to work together and stay in the match for 90 minutes. Furthermore, they are developing more tactical flexibility than in the past, which could serve us well while fighting for the Supercoppa, Coppa Italia, Champions League, and Serie A titles. The postmatch comments from Gabbia and Vranckx were spot on, they are improving as a team and preparing well for the restart.

Vranckx is looking like a solid loan deal and could be helpful this second half of the season

The clinical finishing part is usually related to mentality, however, which is a bit worrisome. There is a lot of debate between fans as to whether Milan have enough depth and quality at all, or whether they dropped a bit mentally this season as well, especially with all of the injuries. Personally, I believe it may be a combination. Pioli has talked about how the late summer mercato due to the sale of the club did not allow them the time to work together as much with the newer players, and that is clear. 

This break is not helping much, either, with the players all returning at staggered intervals, Pioli will not have time to team build as a whole. But we are getting players back that we have been missing for most, if not all of the season. And there are plenty of January mercato rumors, as well, so I am still optimistic about the team's chances.

Tonali nearly equalized near the end of regulation, he definitely has the winning mentality

I am much less optimistic about the horrific marketing decisions made by the club. Forcing the worst of what this club offers down the throats of fans, and then making us pay for it is not the way to maintain the strong base that has been built in the past couple of years. If the aim is for the club to be more of a digital marketing force, there is a long, long, long way to go. First, you must actually make good decisions, then get fans to buy into them. At 6:00 am, to be subjected to quite the opposite was not only disheartening, but actually physically nauseating. Milan losing a friendly was the least of my problems.

This post inspired by the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio

Our next match is a Friendly
Dubai Super Cup
Liverpool FC vs. AC Milan
Friday, December 16 • 16:30 CET (10:30am EST)
This match can be streamed LIVE with a subscription on the Milan YouTube channel

What We Learned From Arsenal vs. Milan in Dubai What We Learned From Arsenal vs. Milan in Dubai Reviewed by Elaine on 6:30 PM Rating: 5
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